Reflections on the Corvid 19 Virus by a Prime Target

corona virus

Someday I am sure we will look back on this time with wonder and amazement.  Each of us no doubt has strong feelings about what is happening now and how it is happening.  For some it is fear and dread while for others it is a time for retreat and reflection.  Millions buy out every roll of toilet paper, face masks, gloves, hand sanitizers, white flour, bottled water and handy wipes.  Scalpers take advantage of a dire situation and a dearth of moral inhibitions to make a profit while health care officials try to “flatten the curve” so that the worst cases can get the medical treatment they need.

The media and other “experts” regale us alternately with paradoxical entreaties.  “Don’t panic, it won’t be that bad!”  “It will be the worst epidemic in history since the Spanish Flu or maybe even the Black Plague.”  “The death rate is 20 or thirty times that of a regular flu.”  “We don’t really know much about this flu.”  “It may take years to develop an effective vaccine.”  “We may have a vaccine very soon.”

the corona virus

Wash your hands!  Wash your hands!  Wash your hands! 

I have many conflicting feelings myself.  I am seventy-three years of age and have lived a good life.  I can hear John the Baptist saying “Repent, Repent.  The end is near.”  Am I ready for the end?  Is my immortal soul as important as my physical body?  I see people hoarding food and I think people are more afraid of starving to death than dying of the flu.  Everything seems to be closing.  Schools, churches, sporting events, concerts, libraries, meetings and much more.  We are exhorted to continue spending but to keep going to work by politicians worried about the economy crashing while health care officials tell us to practice “social distancing” and stay home.  We are repeatedly told that we must flatten the curve.  The unknown is what this will mean for each of us personally in terms of combating this hidden menace.  Who will get the virus in a flatter curve and who will die in a flatter curve are unanswered questions.

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Stay home!  Stay home!  Stay Home!  Stay Home!  Stay Home!

Yet, I cannot help but think how amazing viruses are!  Can you imagine something that is barely visible under a microscope and that has no brain or ability to reproduce on its own, but it can reduce a human being to death and dust.  The pain and misery that this little thing can create is beyond belief.  The greatest science fiction writers in history could not come up with anything as insidious and menacing to the human race as a virus.  The movies are full of superheroes defeating the likes of mega villains like:  Galactus, Thanos, Ultron and the Dark Phoenix.  Yet, we have yet to come up with a superhero who can destroy a single lowly virus.  What is more exciting, watching Spider Man beat the Green Goblin or watching a nerdy scientist working in a laboratory trying to find a vaccine that will paralyze a virus?

Virus:  An infective agent that typically consists of a nucleic acid molecule in a protein coat that is too small to be seen by light microscopy and is able to multiply only within the living cells of a host.

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On the political scene, everyone is trying to blame everyone else for the state of affairs that exists.  Paranoia seems to reign in Congress particularly with an election fast approaching.  The Commander in Chief of the largest most powerful military force in the world is powerless to stop the Corvid 19 virus from spreading.  Yet he has the temerity or stupidity to suggest that his “Border Wall” might help staunch the spread of Corvid 19.  His stooge in waiting Mitch McConnell can block every bill in the Senate, but he can’t block the virus.  Other Trumpists like Representative Gaetz of Florida vote against a bill to provide paid sick leave but then take paid sick leave himself.  It has been noted by the opposition that President Trump did not do much to help our medical research capabilities during his reign of horror:

“President Trump’s third budget request, released Monday, again seeks cuts to a number of scientific and medical research enterprises, including a 13% cut to the National Science Foundation, a 12% cut at the National Institutes of Health and the termination of an Energy Department program that funds speculative technologies deemed too risky for private investors.” — March 12, 2019 – Washington Post

A friend of mine likes to remind me that we catch more flies with sugar than vinegar.  People want to hear positive things during a time of crisis.  We need to have hope and inspiration.  Yet to put out shmaltzy homilies when the reality does not support such optimism may simply be a case of too rosy colored glasses.  I wonder if I am an optimist or a pessimist?  I like to think that I am a realist.  Whether the glass is half empty or half full depends to me on whether the glass is filling up or going down.

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I look at some statistics that say perhaps 40 to 70 percent of Americans will get this virus.  The statistics are based on estimates from the Center for Disease Control.  Their estimates are based on some modeling methods.  For instance,  if the population of the US is approximately 330 million people and the death rate of this virus is estimated at 2 percent it will mean that between 200,000 and 1.7 million people will die from this virus.  Calculations based on the C.D.C.’s scenarios suggest an additional 2.4 million to 21 million people in the United States could require hospitalization, potentially crushing the nation’s medical system, which has only about 925,000 staffed hospital beds.

On the other hand, current data from China shows the rate of viral infection declining in China and the total number of deaths to be 3,199.  This suggests a death rate per capita that is considerably lower than estimates given by many experts.  If you figure that there are 1.4 billion people in China and that there were 3,200 deaths to date, this is a death rate of 1 per 438,000 people.  Extrapolating to the USA, this would mean a total of 750 deaths.  This is a death rate that is considerably lower than most pundits are predicting.  Keep in mind that China is where the disease started and where it took some time to identify the virus.  On the other hand, China also reacted very rapidly to containing and isolating cases of the virus.

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The figures I present are incredible.  The range of deaths vary between 750 and 1.7 million.  Who is right?  Why are the ranges so great?  Are we seeing a battle between optimists and pessimists or is it simply another case of the media hyping worst case scenarios to sell advertising?  Very large gaps between 1. 7 million deaths and 750 deaths suggest a lack of accurate facts and evidence.  Which will prove to be true?  What should the average citizen do?  As a wise person once said, “Pray to the lord but row for the shore.”  This means that we should hope for the best but prepare for the worst.

Say your prayers for others and wash your hands as frequently as you can.  I think this is the best than anyone can do.  I wish I had better advice.

 

 

The Ninth Greatest Mystery of All Time:  What is Life?

lifePeculiar that question is!  Perhaps it is the most peculiar of all the mysteries.  Life is life is it not?  I am either dead or alive.  When I stop living my heart stops beating.  I stop breathing.  My mind dies.  Rigor mortis sets in and my limbs become rigid.  My body begins to decay — BUT STOP– We are describing death not life.

Life is joy.   Life is action.   Life is love.  Love is friendship.  Love is compassion.  Life is charity.  Life is pain and life is pleasure.  Life is complex and life is simple.  Life is toil and life is rest.

In the famous story Frankenstein by Mary Shelley, a number of graves are robbed to provide body parts for a scientific experiment.  The goal of the experiment is to create life.  The patched up body is connected to a bunch of electrodes which are connected to some electrical conductors that are fed by huge electric generators.  At some point in the experiment, the generators explode amidst a large amount of sparks and electrical charges.  Somehow this has the effect of giving life to the dead body which is subsequently named Frankenstein monsterFrankenstein after the scientist who created him.  Of course, a body that is stitched together with multiple body parts lacks a certain symmetry that is considered necessary for human beauty.  Thus, Frankenstein is labeled a monster since he does not conform to traditional norms in terms of his physical appearance.

It is interesting that we find electricity to be connected with life.  Atoms resonate at a certain speed and when they stop resonating death ensues.  If we can mix the right ingredients in a petri dish or a test tube (some call it primal soup) and then run an electric current through it, will we create life?  We have described life earlier but we did not really describe life.  What we described were the symptoms of life, the effects of life.  Animation as opposed to stagnation.  Life is movement.  Death is stillness.  But what is life itself?  What is that spark that we think is connected to an electrical current?

See http://whatislife.stanford.edu/LoCo_files/What-is-Life.pdf  — This is the famous lecture given by Erwin Schrödinger in 1943 at Trinity College in Dublin.

While we live, we defy the logic and order of the universe.  We defy entropy and we defy chaos.  We defy all the known laws of existence.  On this planet, third from the Sun in a not so unique solar system in one of a zillion galaxies in perhaps one of a zillion universes, life has sparked.  Was it electricity, solar energy, geothermal heat, magnetic waves, primal radiation, DNA or will power?  What was the key which created animation from inanimate matter?

Genetics pioneer J. Craig Venter announced Thursday that he and his team have created artificial life for the first time.  Using sequences of genetic code created on a computer, the team assembled a complete DNA of a bacterium, then inserted it in another bacterium and initiated synthesis, or in Venter’s words “booted up” the cell.  In a statement, Venter called the results “the proof of principle that genomes can be designed in the computer, chemically made in the laboratory and transplanted into a recipient cell to produce a new self-replicating cell,” controlled only by the synthetic genome.   Time.com: Scientist creates life.

So we have self-replicating computer cells, interesting but the snag is that they started with a living cell.  They created a new cell out of an already living cell.  Quite a feat but not the same as creating life.  If we are going to create life, it seems we must first find out what life is.  Philosophers, scientists, generals and theologians will all have a different definition of life.

Socrates:  Life is honesty. Life is integrity.  Life is the search for truth.  Life is understanding yourself.

Edwin Schrödinger:  Life seems to be orderly and lawful behavior of matter, not based exclusively on its tendency to go over from order to disorder, but based partly on existing order that is kept up.

General George S. Patton Jr.:  Better to fight for something than live for nothing.

St. Thomas Aquinas:  The soul is like an uninhabited world that comes to life only when God lays His head against us.

DNASeems kind of funny, that no one whether they are a philosopher or scientist can answer the question “what is life?”  Well, they actually do answer the question, but it really tells us little or nothing about what “life” is.  Is life some type of electricity, organic plasma, atoms with a soul, a spirit or the breath of God?  What magic elixir or unknown form of energy renders inert matter into something living, learning and loving?  We can create babies but we cannot figure out how life begins or where the will to live comes from.

“It is interesting that Hindus, when they speak of the creation of the universe do not call it the work of God, they call it the play of God, the Vishnu lila, lila meaning play. And they look upon the whole manifestation of all the universes as a play, as a sport, as a kind of dance — lila perhaps being somewhat related to our word lilt”  — Alan Wilson WattsZen and the Beat Way

I remember years ago (from biology) that it was thought that the smallest unit of life was the cell.  Bacteria were considered to be alive but viruses were in some kind of limbo.  I still don’t really understand this since viruses seem to be doing the same think humans do: Replicating, killing and dying.  Here is what they say about viruses:

Viruses, like bacteria, are microscopic and cause human diseases. But unlike bacteria, viruses are acellular particles(meaning they aren’t made up of living cells like plants and animals are), consisting instead of a central core of either DNA or RNA surrounded by a coating of protein.

Viruses also lack the properties of living things: They have no energy metabolism, they do not grow, they produce no waste products, and they do not respond to stimuli. They also don’t reproduce independently but must replicate by invading living cells.

cold-virus-virus-The above sounds like a reasonable argument to make that viruses are not “living” in the same sense that cellular creatures are.  Nevertheless, they replicate, die and seem to have some will to live or at least as much will as many humans have.  If we assume that the opposite of living is dead, viruses are certainly not dead.  If one were to ask what the “life force” in a virus was or what motivates a virus to take over another organism’s cells, one would have to know what creates life.  The same problem with defining the life force in humans applies to viruses.

“For about 100 years, the scientific c community has repeatedly changed its collective mind over what viruses are. First seen as poisons, then as life-forms, then biological chemicals, viruses today are thought of as being in a gray area between living and nonliving: they cannot replicate on their own but can do so in truly living cells and can also affect the behavior of their hosts profoundly. The categorization of viruses as nonliving during much of the modern era of biological science has had an unintended consequence: it has led most researchers to ignore viruses in the study of evolution. Finally, however, scientists are beginning to appreciate viruses as fundamental players in the history of life.”  — http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/are-viruses-alive-2004/

So, where does that leave us with the initial question “What is life.”  I think the answer must remain we don’t know.  Is it willpower?  Is it a germ that we have not found yet?  Is it some chemical that when mixed with something else creates animation and sentience?  Is it some mysterious force in the universe that we have not yet identified?  Why are animals alive and rocks dead?  Could this mysterious force create “living rocks.”

I promised an answer to the 12 greatest mysteries of all time when I started this series of blogs.  In each one to date, I have attempted to provide some sort of an death-07answer.  Until now, I was fairly happy with my responses to each question.  This ninth question has me stumped.  I cannot think of any place to find an answer.  What makes life for humans may not be the same thing that makes life for a virus or a bacterium.  Goats and dogs might have very different definitions of life but seldom write books or poems about their feelings.   We may someday find out how to extend life but I think we are a long way from finding out what creates life.

“To be alive, it seemed to me, as I stood there in all kinds of sorrow, was to be both original and reflection, and to be dead was to be split off, to be reflection alone.”  ― Teju ColeOpen City

Time for Questions:

What do you think creates life?  Do you think humans will ever be able to create life? Why or why not?  What do you think living means?  Do you live to the fullest or do you take life for granted?  What is the secret to your life?  If you could redo one thing in your life, what would it be?

Life is just beginning.

“The beginning is always today.”  ― Mary Shelley

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